It was the last leg of our journey before finally reaching the desert true. We had refueled, bought our water (one cold and one frozen for the next day) and our scarves to shield our faces from the sand.
We came to a slow halt in a long line of traffic, so Ibrahim steered the van around and headed back to the gas station. A young guy who worked there jumped in and directed us along a route that would take us around the road block. We cruised down side streets, passed resting donkeys and children who were peering out of windows and door cracks. Men standing around having conversations paused to watch us pass. I commented on how lucky we were to be driving through a side of town that no other tourists would come across. The van was stifling hot at times so I leaned on the edge of my window. The breeze outside, although dense, felt refreshing on my face.
The road gradually turned into a pebble track and we found ourselves driving through rural land. A couple of farmers moved their donkey cart for us and Ibrahim skillfully steered over a bridge as narrow as our van was wide. Driving along a wall, I noticed a couple of guys running in our direction and said ‘hey it looks like they’re coming to say hi!’ Another group of guys carrying a tree trunk and rocks dropped them 20 yards in front of us, creating a new block. We realised we were not so welcome in this area when around 200 men sprinted in from nowhere, surrounded our van and screamed ragingly at us.
Ibrahim and the guy who had directed us here were summoned out the van and the 7 of us sat reservedly inside, not giving too much eye contact to the guys prowling around the van. Some were tapping rocks together and appeared hungry for a bit of “let’s stone some tourists” action. The scariest thing was that there was no hierarchy or unity within their group. Some of them spat words at each other and saliva to the ground between irate sentences and hand gestures. I tried to start a game of I Spy with Kevin. My letter was P – for people. Shit loads of them. Ibrahim and the other guy were still outside, but would give us reassuring looks whilst calmly negotiating us out of the situation.
Ibrahim later explained that we had been in disputed territory and the locals were angry that we had failed to respect the original road block. Note to self…
Well, I’m here typing this up and am obviously safe, but I have to admit to fearing the very worst during our excruciatingly slow 3600 seconds of sitting around, wondering how the day would end. I was itching to take photographs, but knew I would jeopardize our safety if I did. Alex Webb would have had a field day with the layers of dusk lit compositional eye candy, that was forming outside my window.
Shortly after reaching some kind of agreement with a group elders that showed up, we were released and the road block was lifted. Ibrahim started the van and only managed to drive 30 feet or so before breaking down to a chugging halt. Ibrahim’s head fell despairingly onto his forearms that were exhaustedly slouched flush against the steering wheel. The rest of us got out to push the van onto the road ahead and grouped in to help fix it.
A guy that had been yelling at us moments before, cycled up and offered his assistance. The van eventually got fixed and we went on our way to the Sahara desert. Another adventure was about to begin, but I was relieved for this one to be over.